Friday, February 14, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 53

I've been reading a lot about intersectionality on some feminist websites and facebook groups over the past several months, and thought I'd pass along some blog posts that have been particularly helpful in helping me understand intersectionality and various forms of privilege, as well as how to be a better ally.  This can be an incredibly uncomfortable topic because it requires introspection and personal acknowledgement of the prejudices we all have, wish we didn't and try really hard to suppress, but I encourage you to take a deep breath and give it a shot.


In this article, Mikki Kendall, the writer who started the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen last summer, provides four steps white feminists must take in order to include black women in feminism.  The first step? Listen.
Listen. Not to rebut, or chime in, or do anything else but hear and understand what is being said, blogged, tweeted, etc. Just listen. Understand that your role is not to lead, or speak for women of color. We’re more than capable of speaking up for ourselves.
If you must do something, do it internally. Interrogate yourself about why listening is so hard, why you want to do something right now, or why you’re so upset to hear that your action/inaction has hurt someone. This is probably going to be the hardest part, because active listening isn’t something most of us are used to doing, especially when the topic is one so fraught with emotion.


Here, Jamie Nesbitt Golden points out how white feminists have ignored, diminished or silenced women of color in various ways.
...for most of us, intersectionality isn’t a buzzword or a catchphrase. It’s our life. When Quvenzhané Wallis was insulted by the Onion, brown feminists were told by their white allies to take the joke or reclaim the word used to insult a 9-year-old girl. Others, as Clutch writer Kirsten West Savali pointed out, chose to remain silent. When George Zimmerman was freed by five white women, many white feminist allies still chose to remain silent. Our stories are ignored or half-told or erased completely. (A perfunctory Google search about the hashtag will yield several stories from sites like Jezebel and Al Jazeera where Kendall’s involvement has been minimized or glossed over — Jezebel has since edited the story to include Kendall’s contribution.) These aggressions — both micro and macro — along with a host of others, have made bridging the divide nearly impossible.
Make sure you check out all the sites Ms. Golden links to throughout her essay as well.  She provides easy access to a treasure trove of topical reading material written by women of color.


Jessie-Lane Metz deconstructs the well-known "invisible knapsack" essay and explains how painful it is when others appropriate the pain of racism and "re-center" the experience on whiteness instead of on people of color.
When a person of colour speaks to their own experiences of racism, they are speaking to a collective pain, and speaking truth to power. When a person with white skin privilege gives an anecdote about racism, whether their own or someone else’s, they are exposing more racialized people to this discrimination, and reasserting their own privilege. The narrative is no longer about Black victims of racist crimes and a deeply flawed justice system, it is about white feelings about Black bodies and their experiences. This is not helpful to intersectional practice, as it implies that only by making an oppression about the oppressor can power-holders work towards becoming allies. Secondly, it disregards the feelings of Black people by exposing them to further racism in an effort to work on white privilege. I do not consent to being confronted with racism in the hopes that white folks can maybe start to exorcise their own internalized issues. Allies need to do this work on their own.

Ms. Metz speaks about the Travyon Martin verdict and the pain and anger many experienced in connection with Zimmerman's acquittal. Regardless of your personal opinions on that event, please read with an open heart to the pain of others.


This piece, written by a German woman and drawing on her country's horrific history of racial discrimination to the point of genocide, addresses the defensiveness of those who, understandably, want to distance themselves from culpability in past racist institutions, events or experiences.
Being German, I had to embrace a history of racism that was not of my doing. I also had to embrace the guilt of this history, and carry the burden as a German to redeem ourselves from these wrongs. I could have shrugged my shoulders many times, and claimed that this wasn’t my problem. I wasn’t there during WWII. I did not choose to believe the lies of racism spread at that time. Why should I have to pay for the faults of my forefathers? However, by absorbing the wrongs of my country’s past, accepting the pain and guilt, and in part monetary restitution through taxes, I have become a tool for change. Germany as a whole will pass on an improved society, because we were willing to stare our collective worst self in the face, and accept our wrong-doings. Once we accept that something is wrong, and accept our part in it, healing and change can happen. We work harder at not repeating the mistakes of the past, and purge ourselves of the mindsets that can lead to similar mistakes again. Now, as a post-WWII German, my role is to learn the lessons, live the new truth, and make sure I pass it on to the next generation. This is impossible if I close my eyes to the past, and refuse to see myself as part of the needed change.

Well, those four pieces - and all the ones they link to in their text - are a good start if you want to educate yourself on intersectionality and begin to recognize the wealth of experiences that exist outside your own.

On a day dedicated to the celebration of love, we can all try a little harder to care about and understand each other. It's not always easy to listen and allow your worldview and opinions to be challenged, to open your heart up a little bit more, but people are worth it.

People are worth it.

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